Flexible Working – the New Right to Request Flexibility

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Workin’ 9 to 5 – what a way to make a living…

We are all familiar with the lyrics to what might arguably be Dolly Parton’s best-known song (after Jolene), but working nine to five is not necessarily what many people are now doing.

Contract and shift working aside, flexible working is the choice for many employees. Flexible working is not a new phenomenon, but since the 30th June 2014, it now applies to any employee who has worked for an employer for 26 weeks.

Employee’s Needs 

What is flexible working? Simply put, flexible working is a way of working which suits the employee’s needs. That might be flexible times for starting and finishing work so as to tie in with childcare for example or working from home.

Other options might include compressed hours (i.e. working full-time hours but over fewer days), job-sharing, working part-time or annualised hours (i.e. working a certain number of hours over the year, but having flexibility over the times those hours are worked).

Studies have shown that employees like flexible working (in one example, 82 percent of people said they were more productive working from home) and it has been seen to reduce sickness levels, and free up office space.

Statutory Application 

Previously, the right to request flexible working was limited to parents and carers, but now an employee without children or a caring responsibility also has the legal right – this is known as making a statutory application to request flexible working.

What are the implications for the employer? Aside from the fact that flexible working needs good management and clear lines of communication, an employer must deal with requests for flexible working in a ‘reasonable manner’.

The employer needs to assess the advantages and disadvantages of the application, he or she must hold a meeting to discuss the request for flexible working with the employee and the employer must offer to hold an appeal process if the application is turned down.

Sound Business Reasons 

An employer can refuse an application if he or she has sound business reasons for doing so.

Reasons for refusal could include:

  • The burden of additional costs
  • The inability to reorganise work among existing staff
  • Not being able to recruit additional staff
  • An unfavourable impact on quality, performance or the ability to meet customer demand
  • Lack of work for the periods the employee proposes to work
  • Planned structural changes to the business

Terms and Conditions

For the employee, requesting flexible working means writing to the employer. The employer then has three months (or more, if this time frame is agreed with the employee) to make the decision. If the employer agrees to the request, then the terms and conditions of the employee’s contract need to be changed.

If the employer disagrees with the application for flexible working, then he or she must write to the employee giving the business reasons for the refusal. An employee can appeal the decision and if turned down may decide to take the issue to an employment tribunal.

Employees are only allowed to make one application for flexible working a year.

You can read more about flexible working and download the relevant codes and guidance at the Acas website.

Here at Bennett Griffin we are experts in all aspects of employment law. If you would like any advice about flexible working or another area of employment law, please contact us today on 01903 229948. You may also like to attend our Employment Club which offers employers the opportunity to discuss the latest developments in employment law with our experts in an informal environment. Contact Elaine Smith for more details on 01903 229948.


The information contained in this article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be legal advice. Professional advice should always be taken on the application of the law in any particular situation.